by Christopher Hodapp
The historic home of North Carolina's first African-American Masonic lodge, King Solomon Lodge No. 1 (PHA) in New Bern, is being restored to its Civil War-era appearance, thanks to local community leaders, donations and grants.
The lodge's 1870 Masonic hall, originally known as Drayton Hall, has been in distressed condition for several years. A fire in 2005 caused major damage to the structure, and since then the elements have not been kind to it. Now the New Bern Preservation Foundation is helping to raise money for the project and aiding in its restoration, and nearly $90,000 has been raised so far. The building has been continuously used as a Masonic lodge and meeting hall since it was built, and it is one of the very few structures north of Queen Street in New Bern to survive a massive, devastating fire in 1922. After the fire, the hall was actually moved several blocks to its current location.
Phase One of the project concentrates on stabilizing the building, with a new roof, new siding, historically recreated windows, restoration of the rooftop cupola, and replacement of the period-incorrect cinder block foundation.
King Solomon Lodge 1 was one of the first African-American lodges south of the Mason-Dixon Line descended out of Prince Hall's African Lodge in Massachusetts. The lodge was issued a charter by the 'National Compact' (PHO) Grand Lodge of New York in 1865 as King Solomon Lodge 23, and their Hall was named after Paul Drayton, Grand Master of the National Compact from 1862-65. In 1870, four lodges of black Masons chartered in North Carolina withdrew from the Compact and established the present Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of North Carolina (PHA). King Solomon Lodge was renumbered as No. 1 under the new grand lodge, and all four of their foundling lodges are still active today.
This project is a perfect example of a lodge and the community uniting to preserve and protect the heritage of Freemasonry and its legacy.
Our historic temples and halls must not be looked upon as white elephants and money sumps to be abandoned by our members. Look into the history of the founding of your town and you'll likely find the Masons have been there from the start. Historic preservation organizations recognize the importance of our fraternity to the development of towns and cities everywhere.
“This is a vitally important historic structure not only to New Bern but to the entire state," said Tim Thompson, current President of the New Bern Preservation Foundation."Its architecture is important along with its historic and cultural significance... This is one of the few buildings in New Bern that we know was built by African American craftsmen and used by the African American community leaders who became state legislators and U. S. Congressmen.”
Past members of King Solomon Lodge have included James O’Hara, legislator and Congressman; Henry P. Cheatham, Congressman; and George H. White, legislator and Congressman.
Consider that Masonic lodges and our halls have been the center of civic and cultural life in thousands of communities across the country for more than two centuries. They can and should be again today. When the Master of King Solomon Lodge was interviewed about the project, he said, "The vision of making good men and women better as well as cultivating young minds for the future is of the utmost importance.”
Amen, my Brother. Amen. Now more than ever.
The New Bern Preservation Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, formed in 1972 to preserve the historic architecture of New Bern, North Carolina. Questions about the project can be directed by calling the NBPF office at 252-633-6448 or by emailing NBPFinfo@gmail.com.
For more about the restoration project or to donate, CLICK HERE.